Theatre review: Alice In Wonderland, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Blue Raincoat of Sligo's Alice In Wonderland
Blue Raincoat of Sligo's Alice In Wonderland
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The name of the Irish poet-president Michael D Higgins, emblazoned on the programme as company patron, shows just how highly Blue Raincoat of Sligo are regarded in the Republic; and they are also much loved by audiences across the UK and beyond for a brand of brilliantly visual small-scale ensemble theatre that has recently given us shows ranging from The Poor Mouth, in 2013, to Shackleton, about the Irish-born polar explorer, in 2017.

Theatre review: Alice In Wonderland, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

Now it revisits Scotland with its 2016 version of Alice in Wonderland; and if you imagine that there can only be one reason to create a new adult version of Alice today – that is, the chance to investigate Lewis Carroll’s strange relationship with childhood and with the original Alice herself – then this fascinating and slightly mind-blowing version by Jocelyn Clarke, directed by Niall Henry, opens up some completely different possibilities.

For in the first place, this is an Alice in Wonderland that gives full voice to Alice herself, by noticing – as few stage and screen adaptations do – just how much of Carroll’s story is an internal monologue, a high-speed diary of a fantastical journey, full of comments, thoughts and footnotes spilling from the mind of a bright and observant girl on the brink of adulthood. An otherwise pitch-perfect Miriam Needham, as young Alice, could perhaps give the audience a little more time to savour the sheer wit of Alice’s thoughts; but it remains an immense pleasure to see Carroll’s words, and Alice’s character, take centre stage, supported by some lovely, ingenious and simple set design by Paul McDonnell, looming out of lighting designer Barry McKinney’s atmospheric darkness.

Then, secondly, in foregrounding Alice’s monologue, this production makes clear the links between Carroll’s book, first published in 1865, and the great stream-of-consciousness absurdists of the 20th century, including James Joyce, Flann O’Brien and Samuel Beckett.

Blue Raincoat’s tight focus on the language produces some strange variations of theatrical pace, and requires concentration, even over a short 65 minutes.

Yet there are also some exquisite theatrical setpieces, particularly those involving Sandra O’Malley’s star turn as the Duchess; and with Sean Elliot, John Carty, Hilary Bowen-Walsh and Brian Devaney making up an inspired six-strong ensemble, this Alice emerges as a memorable and rewarding hour of

theatre, given added depth by Joe Hunt’s terrific score and sound design, featuring perhaps the best performance ever of the Duchess’s famous lullaby, “Speak roughly to your little boy, and smack him when he sneezes…” - Joyce McMillan

At the Traverse Theatre, ­Edinburgh, 6-8 June